Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/29/17

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/29 – 10/12/2017  by John Bates

Hawk Ridge Migration Stats
On Sunday, 9/17, the winds changed. We’d had 10 days straight of south-southwesterly winds and rain, and a cold front was coming through. The winds moved to westerly, perfect for migrating hawks. We had to work around the house that day, but I wondered what we might be missing at Hawk Ridge in Duluth. Well, we missed 27,290 hawks! Broad-winged hawks ruled the day, comprising 26,270 of the total count, but 615 sharp-shinned hawks also came through, as did 107 American kestrels, and 169 bald eagles.
The counters also tallied 4,354 migrating non-raptors, including 1,513 blue jays.
That wasn’t the best day for blue jays. On 9/12, they counted 7,365!
Birds of all types – hummingbirds to eagles – are winging south, and the woods are getting quieter and quieter.
Loon Migration Starting
“Our” loons should be now starting to stage prior to their migration. Social flocking starts in late-summer, usually on large lakes or on lakes that contain unsuccessful territorial pairs, but in fall, loons often gather in large groups of hundreds or more on big lakes like Trout and Fence. Mille Lacs Lake, a huge 132,000-acre lake in Minnesota, is well-known for hosting as many as 700 loons in October prior to their migration.
Adults loons migrate independent of their chicks and of each other. Unsuccessful breeders may leave their breeding areas as early as August and begin staging, well before those with young do. Parents generally migrate first, while the young remain on their natal or adjacent lakes often until near freeze-up.
Peak migration in our area occurs in late October, and by late November, most migrants have arrived in their wintering areas. Fall migration is usually a protracted affair with the loon initiating their long-distance migratory flights in the morning. When flying over land, loons may cruise at altitudes as high as 9,000 feet, but when they’re over water, they often migrate within 10 to 300 feet above the surface.
Loons, of course, aren’t only migrating from northern Wisconsin. In the continental U.S., Minnesota has the largest population of common loons with more than 10,000 adults. Wisconsin has an estimated 4,000 adults, while Maine has 4,100 adults, New York 800, and New Hampshire about 500. 
Canada puts the States to shame with about 250,000 adult common loon pairs, roughly 95% of the world’s population, plus all the juveniles and non-breeders.
Totaled all together, an estimated 710,000 to 743,000 common loons will migrate this fall of which 103,000 to 108,000 will likely be juveniles. The estimate of migrating adults is based on breeding loon counts, and the number of juveniles is based on a 25-year statewide dataset in New Hampshire that shows 17% of the fall loon population is comprised of young-of-the year. 
“Our” loons spend the winter season about 80 miles offshore along the Florida coast and Gulf of Mexico. The distance between breeding and wintering grounds of loons in Minnesota and Wisconsin ranges from 1,170 to 1,570 miles. Some individuals stage on lakes along the way and may even over-winter in larger reservoirs in Tennessee and Alabama.
One- and two-year olds remain throughout the year on their wintering sites and don’t return until their third year.

Goldfinch Still Feeding Young
            Watching our feeders on 9/15, I noticed an adult American goldfinch feeding seeds to its chick, which seems mighty late to still be raising young. But goldfinch are perhaps our latest nesting birds, with nesting beginning late June or early July, peaking in the second half of July and occasionally continuing into September. Like most songbird chicks after fledging, the young remain dependent on their parents for about three weeks.
            In looking at their range map, goldfinch that breed in Canada will migrate south, but “our” goldfinch may or may not stay the winter. Age and gender strongly contribute to who goes where: Female goldfinch winter farther south than adult males, while young males winter further north than adults.

Sightings: Gray Treefrog, Moose, Solitary Sandpiper, Greedy – Turkey TailRobins
Lisa DeHorn sent me a great photo of an Eastern gray treefrog. She wrote, “While preparing for a walk at the Willow Flowage nature trail on 9/6, we encountered this beautiful frog next to the parking area. I'm guessing it's a graytree frog, but I’m not quite sure. It was very small – only an inch long and about 3/4" wide. It had a thin black stripe horizontally across its eye, but that was the only visible marking. It reminded me of a large key lime in color, texture of skin and size.”

eastern gray tree frog photo by Lee Teuber

Eastern gray treefrogs are masters of changing color based on the temperature or the color of their surroundings, and can range from gray to brown to green to mottled. They should be going into hibernation soon, though with our warm weather earlier this week, they may have thought it was still August.
Laurie Fuhrman Ellingsrud sent me this note: “While paddling near the mouth of a small bay on Day Lake yesterday (912), I heard some crashing in the woods, and paused to see what it might be. A young bull moose! I watched it sniff the air and mosey along the shoreline for a bit, then it got in the water and swam along the south shore.”
Sarah Krembs sent me a fine photo of a solitary sandpiper she had seen for a number of days in our area. Solitary sandpipers breed in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska and winter in the tropics, from northern Mexico south through much of South America. They are indeed a solitary bird, the name referring to the species' solitary habits in migration, which contrast with the flocking behavior of most other migrant sandpipers.

solitary sandpiper photo by Sarah Krembs

And a flock of robins invaded our yard last week and stripped off every one of the mountain ash berries on our two trees. I told them repeatedly that those berries were to be saved for winter food for other birds who would need them far more then, but they ignored me.

robin eating mountain ash berries - photo by John Bates

Celestial Events
            Autumn equinox came and went on 9/22, and now we’re on the dark side of the year – night is now longer than day for the next six months.
            For planet watching in October, look at dusk for Jupiter very low in the southwest and only for the first week of October. Look also for Saturn, also very low in the southwest, but it will hang around until late in the month.
Before dawn, look for Venus brilliant and very low in the east, along with Mars. On 10/5, Venus and Mars will almost be on top of one another. The full moon occurs on 10/5 as well.
            October 4 marks the anniversary of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. Launched by the Soviets in 1957 as a great scientific achievement, the Goddard Space Flight Center now lists 2,271 satellites in orbit.
            Look for the peak of the modest Draconid meteor shower in the predawn on 10/8.

Mushroom for the Week – Turkey Tail
            Turkey tail, Trametes versicolor, comes in an array of colors from beige, to blue-green, to orange, to various shades of brown. All resemble the flared tail of a turkey, thus the name. And all are saprophytic, living off the remains of dead, decaying wood.

turkey tail mushroom photo by John Bates

Birds in Art – Road Trip Time
            Birds in Art opened on September 9 and runs through November 26. Since 1976, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau has organized Birds in Art annually, presenting exceptional contemporary artistic interpretations of birds in perhaps the finest art exhibit on birds in the country. Approximately 100 works are selected every year, and every year as part of the event, the artists are treated to a trip up north to Hazelhurst for an afternoon on Lake Katherine hosted by descendants of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson family.
            The exhibit is always exceptional, and I highly recommend a rainy (or sunny) day trip to view it.

Thought for the Week
“We only value what we know and love, and we no longer know or love the wild. So instead we accept substitutes, imitations, semblances, and fakes – a diminished wild . . . To reverse this situation we must become so intimate with wild animals, with plants and places, that we answer to their destruction from the gut . . . If anything is endangered in America it is our experience of wild nature.” - Jack Turner

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/15/17

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/15 – 28, 2017  by John Bates

In speaking with several people who have been out this week collecting wild rice, the harvest is poor overall. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission website lists off-reservation wild rice abundance and harvest regulations, and numerous well-known rice marshes are closed to harvest this year. I suspect our high waters this year inhibited growth and are the guilty party for the poor production. Go to https://data.glifwc.org/manoomin.harvest.info/ for a listing of ricing conditions throughout the Northwoods.

Migrations – Hummers, Hawks, and Monarchs
“Migration stitches continents together,” wrote Scott Weidensaul, and indeed birds and other migratory animals care little for borders. Wisconsin supports 235 breeding birds, of which nearly 60% are neotropical migrants, stitching our state to Central and South America. Of those, ruby-throated hummingbirds get a large share of the press, and deservedly so, given their tiny size and their seemingly impossible 500-mile crossing of the Gulf of Mexico.
Most ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate into Mexico and as far south as Panama. How long does that take? To go from Wisconsin down to the Gulf coast of the United States takes perhaps five days, assuming a hummer doesn’t spend more than one day resting at any one place avoiding hurricanes and the like. To cross the Gulf of Mexico takes a hummer about 18 hours if the weather is good, and then it may take another couple of days to reach its wintering grounds. So, flying straight, it takes a hummingbird about a week to reach Central America, but given the vagaries of weather and the need for rest, it’s more like two weeks,
Before leaving land, hummingbirds double their weight by gorging to add fat as an energy reserve, and then they migrate by day. The male leaves first, the female second, the juvenile(s) last.
At the opposite end of the size spectrum are the hawks. Hawk Ridge in Duluth is the premier Midwestern site for viewing the fall hawk migration, and the peak period is right now. The Hawk Weekend Festival begins today, 9/15, and runs through Sunday 9/17. The best count day so far was on 9/6 with a total of 2,332 raptors, 1,636 of which were broad-winged hawks.       On the other hand, September 3 wasn’t a good hawk day – only 247 total for the day – but it was an exceptional flight day for other birds. Eighty-four species totaling 8,592 birds flew over the ridge, with a high of 2,860 cedar waxwings.
Every year the count is different. The 2016 fall migration count totaled 415,604 migrants, slightly below 2015’s half-a-million. Of those, 66,369 were raptors, which was slightly below the long-term average. Totals for sharp-shinned hawks, bald eagles, merlins, and peregrine falcons were greater than any other season since counting began in 1972. Conversely, counts of northern goshawks, broad-winged hawks, rough-legged hawks, and American kestrels were all below average.
The reasons for the declines aren’t always clear. For broad-winged hawks, it may be nothing more than weather variables during their peak migration season. For northern goshawks, large fall invasions no longer happen, and as for kestrels, the lower numbers jive with a real decline in population.
To follow the count days, go to http://www.hawkridge.org and click on “Hawk Count.” Better yet, watch the weather for a day with west, northwest, or north winds, and go up to the ridge – you may get lucky and have the chance to see thousands of raptors migrating right overhead.
In the insect world, monarch butterflies are the most closely followed migrant, and they are also on the move. To follow their progress, go to https://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/. It probably takes a Wisconsin monarch up to two months to make the 2,500 mile journey to its Mexican mountain wintering grounds.

            As of last weekend, 137 western wildfires were burning across 7.8 million acres, exceeding the ten-year average by 2.25 million acres.
The fires appear cataclysmic, but sometimes fire is beneficial. Outside California's Yosemite National Park, a wind-fueled fire leapt into a grove of 2,700-year-old giant sequoia trees, burning brush and leaving scorch marks on some big trees, but not killing any. Mary and I have visited some of these sequoia groves and were astonished at the size of the fire scars on many of the trees. The thick bark can withstand ground fires.
Dendrochronology (the dating of tree rings to the exact year) has determined that low intensity surface fires have historically swept through the sequoias approximately every 5 to 15 years. Sequoias actually rely on fire to release seeds from their cones, to expose bare mineral soil to their seedlings, to open holes in the forest canopy for sunlight to reach young seedlings, and to reduce competition from species such as white fir and incense cedar.

Second and Third Clutches
We still have juvenile purple finches and rose-breasted grosbeaks coming to our feeders, some of whom look like they just recently hatched. Purple finches occasionally winter as far north as our area, so they are a late migrant, and perhaps pulling off a late hatch is inconsequential.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks, on the other hand, are neotropical migrants, and migrate in late September. So, if these are indeed recent fledglings, they don’t have a lot of time to enter adulthood before their ticket is punched to leave town.

juvenile purple finch looking a bit scruffy

Presque Isle’s Wilderness Trail
Mary, Callie, and I recently hiked the 2.8-mile-long Wilderness Trail in Presque Isle, and what a lovely trail it is! The trail was completed last fall through a grant given to the Town of Presque Isle, and the construction was helped along by a bevy of volunteers. The trail is located on both state and town lands, and bridges numerous wetlands. Several loops offer a variety of walks through varying habitats .
We were on the look-out for mushrooms, and we found far more mushrooms than we could identify. I think it will also be an excellent site for birds, and I’m looking forward to birding the trail in the spring. Kudos to the Town of Presque Isle for the good work!

Joan Galloway sent this: “On July 17th, I had just come down to check the plants on our dock on Clear Lake on the Manitowish chain when I heard a commotion out from the dock. I heard a mother mallard duck quacking loudly and her young ducklings peeping distressfully. When I looked out I saw a common loon grab a young duckling and dive with it. I never saw the duckling again!! The mother duck, still quacking loudly, left with her other duckling swimming to shore. When the loon surfaced, it followed the mother and duckling as they swam. It only stopped when the ducks reached the safety of cover on the shoreline.”
Territorial loons seldom tolerate intrusions of other waterfowl and frequently have been observed killing ducklings who have blundered into their territory. By this time of year, territorial boundaries no longer exist, and waterfowl mix freely. But during the breeding season, it’s another story.

Celestial Events
Gary Bailey in Hazelhurst noted that the harvest moon occurs this year on October 5, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox on 9/22. I wrote in my last column that the full moon on 9/6 was the harvest moon – not so! It’s still on its way.
Look before dawn on 9/17 and 9/18 for Venus near the waning crescent moon. The new moon occurs on 9/19.
The peak Orionid meteor shower occurs on 9/21. Viewing is best in pre-dawn hours – expect an average of 20 meteors per hour.
Look after dusk on 9/23 and 9/24 for Saturn near the waxing crescent moon.
NHAL State Forest Recreation Plan Amendment Proposal 
Comments on amendments to the Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest plan will be accepted until 9/17. It looks like ATVs will now race through the NHAL along with a lot of other proposed recreation development. Click on DNR Master Planning to view the plan and detailed maps, and then fill out the comment form.

Mushroom for the Week: Dyer’s Polypore
            Mary hit the jackpot this week when she found numerous dyer’s polypores (Phaeolus schweinitzii) on a hemlock log. These conks when young give a rich gold color to fabric, while older ones give a darker golden brown. She also found a Hapilopilus nidulans, a non-descript conk that gives a powerful purple dye. She’ll soon have her pots boiling, her witch’s hat on, and the magic will begin.

dyer's polypore photo by Mary Burns

            We also took a picture of some fine eyelash cup mushrooms on a log, and when we looked at the pictures back home, we noticed below the eyelash cups a new species for us – blackberry slime mold! Now, I know slime molds don’t get too many folks excited, but they’re just so unusual – they’re amoeba-like life forms that ooze themselves around – that we just can’t help ourselves. They bring out our repressed junior high personalities, and we can’t stop ourselves from poking them and going “oooohhhh.”

eyelash cup mushroom with blackberry slime beneath - photo by John Bates

Quote for the Week

A piece is largely missing from the public discourse about climate change, namely an affirmation of our moral responsibilities in the world that the scientists describe. No amount of factual information will tell us what we ought to do. For that, we need moral convictions – ideas about what it is to act rightly in the world, what it is to be good or just, and the determination to do what is right. Facts and moral convictions together can help us understand what we ought to do – something neither alone can do. – Kathleen Dean Moore